Friday, 18 December 2015

South Island Lupin Trip – Part 1

In my last blog, I mentioned that we had made a snap decision to go to the South Island to see the flowering lupins in the Mackenzie Country. Well, we went at exactly the right time, for we saw thousands upon thousands of lupins in the most glorious colours! What a feast for the eyes.

Thousands of lupins – these were beside the Lindis Pass road (photo by John)

Of course we took the bikes, and we had another brilliant cycling holiday. Hooray for being retired, and being able to just drop everything and take off like this. We count ourselves very lucky…

In twelve days, we took over a thousand photos between us – it will be really hard to decide which ones to use for this blog. Of course John’s photos are always much better than mine – not only is he a better photographer than me, he also has much superior cameras (plural!) and a better iPhone than me. But I did take a few nice ones, as you will see.

We biked close to 300 km during this trip, and there is a lot to write about, so I will write up this trip in two or three parts.

Day 1 – Wellington to Christchurch

On Wednesday 25 November, we packed the e-bikes into the car and crossed Cook Strait on the “new” Bluebridge ferry, the Strait Feronia. It was an uneventful trip – brisk wind, but not much of a swell, a mixture of sunshine and partly cloudy skies. We stopped at Kekerengu for a late lunch, then drove to Christchurch, where we stayed for the next two nights.

East Head, at the entrance to Tory Channel, with Perano Head and Raukawa Rock in the distance (photo by John)

Day 2 – Little River Trail

Thursday 26 November. We planned to ride the Little River Rail Trail, south of Christchurch. This was one of the rides described in a newly published book by the Kennett Brothers, "Short Easy Bike Rides".

The forecast was for fine, hot weather, but with gale force winds up to 110 km/hr. We made an early start. As is often the case, the morning started out calm, but it became increasingly windy towards the middle of the day.

Officially, the trail starts in Hornby, at the south-western edge of Christchurch, and goes through Prebbleton and Lincoln, to Little River. It follows much of an old railway line that was last used in the 1960s. It’s a distance of 44 km, too much for us to do as an out-and-back ride, so we drove to Motukarara (as suggested in the book) and started cycling from the historic railway station.

The historic Motukarara railway station. Built c.1882, and restored in 2006, when the rail trail opened (photo by John)

The station master’s paraphernalia (photo by John)

The trail was very rough, coarse gravel, which was quite hard work. I tried to keep to the narrow strip of firm base in the centre, but if I strayed onto the edges, where all the tossed gravel collects, it was quite skiddy. You really had to keep your eyes on the track most of the time. If you were looking around you tended to stray onto the skiddy bits.

The track was quite rough (photo by John)

There were a lot of bridges (14 of them, apparently), cattle stops and gates. The paddocks on either side of the track were quite green, and very flat.

There were a lot of bridges, most with a cattlestop at each end (photo by John)

After a few kilometres we came to Lake Ellesmere – a vast lake/lagoon which is a habitat for many kinds of birds and water fowl. We saw herons, ducks, swans, pukekos, Canada geese, and heard the kek-kek-kek of the plovers. There were a number of maimais (duck hunters' hides) in the water – I think the lake is quite shallow, so duck shooters (in season) would be able to wade across. 

Lake Ellesmere is a haven for water fowl (photo by John)

Apart from the birds, the landscape is quite boring – flat, with nothing really to look at. John had brought his binoculars, but I'm not very good at using them. Can't use them with my glasses, and can't see without them ...

We stopped to apply more sunscreen, as the sun was fierce, and there was no shade anywhere, except for the occasional tree.

We stopped to apply more sunscreen – and to eat some chocolate (photo by John)

After Kaituna, the track started to improve a little – the surface was not quite so rough. Then from Baileys Road, the track curved around the base of a hill, and we found ourselves riding along the shore of Lake Forsyth. This looked much more attractive, with hills all around. The track was much nicer to bike on too, with finer gravel.

The track led around the base of the hill towards Lake Forsyth (photo by John)

The lakeside track was fringed with trees in many places, which provided much appreciated shade. Thus far, there was only a light breeze, nothing like the gale force winds that the forecast had promised.

The trees provided very welcome shade (photo by John)

Looking towards the seaward end of the lake

Lake Forsyth is home to lots of black swans and quite a few geese too. And this obviously is the season for young families – I have never seen so many cygnets in one day, and in one place.

We saw lots of black swans, many of them with cygnets

We arrived at Little River at about 11am. As we came off the track into the Little River settlement, we saw the boarded-up Church of St John the Baptist, which was damaged in the February 2011 earthquake. A beautiful little church, in a lovely setting, but sadly it is no longer able to be used.

St John the Baptist Church in Little River

We stopped for a very pleasant lunch at the Little River Café and Store. We enjoyed sitting in the garden at the back of the café, and found access there to an interesting art gallery. The gallery itself was not open, as they were in the process of setting up a new exhibition, but there were some interesting exhibits in the garden. Among these were a couple of “Daleks”.

“Exterminate! Exterminate!” (photo by John)

After lunch we rode a little distance towards the township, but didn’t go very far. The wind was starting to get up, and we needed to get back on our way. We did see an interesting accommodation place, called SiloStay, where the units were corrugated metal silos. Definitely something a bit different. I was intrigued by the bike hanging below one of the balconies. A decoration, surely? Not a functional way of storing a bike, I hope.
SiloStay Accommodation

On our return journey, we cycled back on the track beside the lake, but when we got to Baileys Road, we decided to bike the rest of the way back on the road, rather than the track. It meant more kilometres, but at least we did not have to fight the bone-shaking, wrist-shuddering, bum-mortifying gravel as well as the wind, which had by now come up.

The wind was quite strong now, so we cranked up the e-assist level to 4, and then to 5 for a while, until John got worried about the motors and/or batteries overheating, as it was very hot in the sun, and we were pushing into a head wind. So we went back to level 4.

Despite the e-assist, it was quite hard work. And it was very hot (the day got to 30 degrees C). The Canterbury nor’wester tends to be rather warm, so the wind did not cool us down at all. Somewhere along the line I stopped under a tree by the roadside, as I was too hot, and I was getting rather saddle-sore. We sat on the grass for a while, then pushed on again.

A stop to try to cool off a bit in the shade … (photo by John)

By the time we had done 51 km, I was so wishing for the end. We arrived at the Blue Duck Café, and though it was only another three kilometres to get back to our car at Motukarara, we stopped for a nice cool smoothie. We rode 54 km all up.

Quite close to where we had parked the car, I saw a bizarre sight: two white ponies, on which some person had dyed the manes and tails in vivid pink and purple! Just like “My Little Pony”! Quite shocking, but strangely pretty too.

Two ponies emulating “My Little Pony”! A little girl’s fantasy?

Day 3 – Christchurch to Tekapo

Friday 27 November. This was a traveling day, driving from Christchurch to Tekapo. Not a terribly nice day weather-wise – not raining (yet), but quite windy, and getting cold by late morning. It started to rain just before we got to Ashburton, and by the time we stopped for lunch in Geraldine it was raining hard.

Between Geraldine and Fairlie it started to get hilly, and where the hills were not farmland, they were covered in the “old gold” (or “dirty yellow” as my sister calls it) of broom in flower. Whole hillsides, quite glorious. As we crossed the bridges over the Rakaia and Rangitata Rivers, we noticed lots of the brighter yellow lupins (Lupinus arboreus) in the gravelly riverbeds, but no purple ones.

After Fairlie, we headed up Burkes Pass, and then the rain stopped. And from then on we started seeing purple and pink lupins! Yay! Just a few to begin with, but the closer we got to Tekapo, the bigger the clusters on the side of the road. All the gorgeous mixed colours – lavender, purple, deep blue, magenta, pink and apricot.

The story about how the lupins came to be in the Mackenzie country is quite a romantic one. Because of course, lupins (Lupinus polyphyllus) are not native to New Zealand. The story goes that in the 1950s, a farmer’s wife, Connie Scott of Godley Peaks Station, was concerned about the boring edges of the roads and ordered a sack of lupin seeds, which she cast along the sides of the roads, to brighten the place up. In fact, there were several women who did the same in different parts of the high country. I found a really interesting article about the history of, and reasons for, the lupins. It was written by Connie Scott's son David, an agricultural research scientist, in a 1993 issue of the well-respected gardening magazine, New Zealand Gardener. You can find this article here. It is well worth a read.

It was just on 2pm when we arrived in Tekapo, so we checked into our accommodation right away. Once we’d parked our bags in our room, we went for a walk to look at the lupins on the lake shore. After all, this was what this trip was all about – the lupins.

It was sunny in patches by now, and the lupins were magnificent. It brought tears to my eyes – so, so, so beautiful! Such masses of them – so glorious. The colours! We went crazy with our cameras, and took gazillions of photos.

Lupins in a myriad of colours on the shore of Lake Tekapo (photo by John)

And the views of the mountains, with still some snow on the tops, were wonderful. But the wind was quite strong and cold.

The strong wind was blowing the lupins about …

… but I managed to get a reasonable close-up

The new footbridge (photo by John)

First we walked on the township side of the river, then we went across the road bridge to the Church of the Good Shepherd. It was very disappointing to find that the brand-new footbridge, of which I had seen the official opening on TV the previous weekend, was not actually open to the public yet. When we got to the other side we saw why: the access path had not yet been completed on that side.

At least we were able to get a photo of the bridge without people on it! (photo by John)

When I enquired at the Information Office as to when they were expecting the bridge to be open for use, I got a somewhat scathing comment: “The District Council haven’t signed it off yet, could be this time next year!” But I found that the Tekapo footbridge had a Facebook page, and it showed that the bridge had been opened to the public on 10 December. 

Hopefully the availability of a footbridge will mean that cars, campervans and buses will no longer be allowed to park by the Church of the Good Shepherd. They do create such “visual pollution”, spoiling the look of a lovely site.

“Visual pollution” of vehicles by the Church of the Good Shepherd

The lupins in front of the church were just as lovely, though possibly not as densely packed as on the village side of the river. Of course there were heaps of tourists about as well. We were amused at the number of young Asian women fiddling about with selfie-sticks.

Lupins, mountains and tourists …

… and rocks (photo by John)

Among the rocks on the shore below the church, John was intrigued to find a remnant of the original suspension bridge which was built in the late 1870s, and demolished in 1954. 

A remnant of the original 19th century suspension bridge (photo by John)

Yet more lupins (photo by John)

The Church of the Good Shepherd

We walked over to the Mackenzie’s Dog monument, since there was no-one around there at the time. Then two minutes later another tour bus pulled up and the place was invaded again.

The plaque at the base of this lovely sculpture of Mackenzie’s sheepdog, reads: “This monument was erected by the runholders of the Mackenzie County and those who also appreciate the value of the collie dog without the help of which the grazing of this mountain country would be impossible”.

Mackenzie’s sheepdog (photo by John)

Near the monument we found some plants of a different kind – the fearsome matagouri. This native shrub has particularly vicious thorns, which can reach several centimetres in length. They were the cause of not one, but two flat tyres, when we biked in the South Island last summer. But now, the shrubs were in flower, and we were able to admire the dainty little blooms.

Matagouri in flower

Back on the other side of the river, we walked under some trees, and I was struck by the beauty of the small cones of a larch. This conifer is unusual in that it is deciduous.

New and old cones on a low-hanging branch of a larch (photo by John)

View over Lake Tekapo in the late afternoon (photo by John)

After an excellent dinner at the Mackenzie Restaurant, we wandered about the foreshore some more. The light of the setting sun – at nearly 9 pm – gave the hills a very special glow.

The last of the setting sun on the hills (photo by John)

Beautiful, but very cold! (photo by John)

We didn’t go biking at all on this day, but I’d had my wish – to see the full glory of the Lake Tekapo lupins. I was very, very happy!

Day 4 – Lake Alexandrina

Saturday 28 November. We woke to a fine, but very cold day. We planned to bike to Lake Alexandrina. We biked there last summer, with the Pure Trails tour, and it was such a nice ride that we decided to do it again.

We can't be sure, but we think that, as with a lake of the same name in Australia, the lake may have been named after Queen Victoria, whose full name was Alexandrina Victoria. 

We started biking at 8am. Leaving from the village, we headed up the road towards the Godley Peaks Road turn-off (about 2 km). The wind was not too strong at this point, but very cold. I was wearing three layers plus my Tineli jacket, plus my parka, to keep the wind out. I was very glad of the neck warmer I had bought just before we left on this trip.

All wrapped up against the cold, on the Godley Peaks Road. If you click on the photo to enlarge it, you can just make out the domes of the Mt John Observatory on the hill on the left (photo by John)

Though it was cold, it was a nice ride there. In some places the road was sheltered by hills, so the wind was not too fierce there. We saw patches of lupins along the road side.

Lake Tekapo (photo by John)

Lake McGregor, a small lake between Lakes Alexandrina and Tekapo

A steep bit of road before we descend to Lake Alexandrina (photo by John)

Lake Alexandrina is a perfectly idyllic spot (photo by John)

When we got to Lake Alexandrina, we crossed the little bridge, and rode along to the end. There are about a couple of dozen holiday baches there. We got talking to a woman out for a walk. She and her husband were staying in the Timaru Anglers’ Club’s bach. She said that wind on the lake was making fishing difficult. Her husband had gone to Lake McGregor to see if it was better there.

We crossed the little bridge … (photo by John)

Lupins on the shores of Lake McGregor (photo by John)

Back on the road, John suggested we should bike up to the top of Mt John to have coffee at the café there. I thought it was madness – it is a very steep road! But John scoffed and said “Go on! It’s a challenge!”

Well, we started, but had to give up before we were even a quarter of the way up. It was very steep, but what really stopped us was the wind. The higher we climbed, the stronger it became. It was blowing so hard that it was getting dangerous. Later we heard that they actually had to close the place to the public as there were 130 km/hr winds at the top.

Threatening clouds in the distance. This is where we turned around and went back down

Same spot, viewed in the opposite direction

The ride back was a blast! We were going downhill, and we had a tailwind! I think I reached 45 km/hr, even while hanging on to the brakes. Exhilarating!

The day's ride was about 24 km. When we got back to the village, we browsed the shops. I bought some wrap-around sunnies, as the wind in my eyes makes them sting and tear up, and John purchased a jacket - a bit like mine, but red.

Later we went for a drive around the residential streets of Tekapo, as it was fine, but very windy. We spotted several signs pointing the way to the “Lake Tekapo Resource Recovery Park”. That sounded intriguing – what was "resource recovery"? We thought it might be a swept-up spa resort, for people to relax and recover from the hardships of their busy lives ... We laughed when we found out that it was the local tip!

It turned out to be the tip!

When we came back we watched a group of people being entertained on Segways. It was their “office Christmas party”. It looked like good fun. As it was cold but sunny, I sat in the car and read for a while. Then I noticed that the party had finished and the operator was giving other people rides, so we went over and had a go. What fun! Once you get used to it, it is rather like skiing in the way you have to shift your weight from your knees.

Segway riders

Gorgeous colours by the lake … (photo by John)

… and sun and shade on the hills

A final close-up (photo by John)

We ended the day with a cheap and cheerful pizza at "The Tin Plate". Then returned to our room for me to write up my diary, and for us both to download the more than 200 photos we had taken in the last couple of days.

What a great day it had been.

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